Collaboration On Line?



A young entrepreneur goes into business. And as it often happens
these days, he or she has business partners from across the country, or even the
globe. With reliable connectivity the team-work is not restricted to all being
under one roof. Companies look for ways to collaborate on their idea, plans and
budgets. Business grows, but so do software expenses. Licenses are expensive-and
need to be renewed frequently. What does an organization with scarce resources
do?

In the past hotmail and other free e-mail services made it
possible for people to connect in unimaginable ways. And these services continue
to be the lifeline of thousands of small businesses-freelancers, design shops,
consultants-despite being not the most efficient. The next step is having
productivity tools available online. That’s precisely what Google has come up
with-with its Google Docs (docs.google.com). Google lets you work on documents
and spreadsheets and has a calendar as well, all online. Google Docs let you
create documents and spreadsheets. But the key here really is about the
collaboration aspect. The document is not on your PC-it stays in your account
on the Google server. You can invite your colleagues to give their comments on a
document or have online real-time discussions on it. Even in the beta version
Google Docs offers a lot of possibilities.

Will
software as a service be able to really translate into lower costs for the
users? This would depend on the manner in which suppliers structure their
revenue streams.

Microsoft too has its Office Live in beta, which is free for
now, but requires giving out your credit card number. One sees the name Office
and tends to think that Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc will be available for free.
Perish the thought. There are three offerings online. There’s Office Live
Basics that’s about having a domain hosted with related tools and services-this
will remain free. Live Collaboration will have shared sites, online business
applications (customer manager, company calendar, project manager, etc), while
Live Essentials will have a combo of the two offerings. The latter two will cost
$30 a month, post beta.

But questions abound. Here are a few key ones.

Will the service be able to really translate into lower costs
for the users? This would depend on the manner in which suppliers structure
their revenue streams. Will it be licensing? Will the payment be fixed or by
number of hours used? Or will there be advertising supporting the use of these
tools-in a manner not yet thought of. The cost of connectivity would also be a
determinant of the overall money that a customer has to shell out. There is not
enough data to pronounce judgement as of now. But it is very clear that
ultimately free will have a price tag to it. Free lunch remains an eternal
quest.

Actually, connectivity could get relatively expensive as the
need to improve reliability goes up. A business cannot have the productivity
tools server being down for too long. The present day world offers back ups.
What would be the back up if connectivity fails? It is a bit like a grid
collapse on the power circuits. In the Indian context the speeds and reliability
of the Internet has to go up substantially before such offerings can find mass
usage.

Security will continue to be a critical factor. And as with
other technologies there is a technical obstacle and there is a psychological
obstacle. Both have to be overcome before businesses would be willing to put up
data online on servers controlled by global
organizations.

Gartner predicts that by 2011, 25% of new business software will
be delivered as SaaS. Productivity tools will also be a part of these. Getting
ready to integrate these in businesses is the challenge for the providers,
telecom companies and of course, the end users.

The author is editor-in-chief of CyberMedia, the publisher of Dataquest.
He can be reached at shyamm@cybermedia.co.in

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